Healey's Farm in North Kingstown, RI integrated pest mgmt
North Kingstown, RI
Sweet Corn White & Butter & Sugar, Brandywine tomatoes yellow, pink and black, beef steak, mt,pride mt.spring. bigboy grape tomatoes san marzano plum tomatoes,butternut, acorn, delicate ,spaghetti squash, sweet peppers, lima bean green bean, potatoes, onion, garlic, sunflowers ,cockscomb, Oscar, cabbage, brocci,cauilflower, summer, zucci, patty pan squash, gourds, broom corn indian corn, pumpkins, Pink pupmkins,wart pumpkins,beets,okra,and much more.......
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North Kingstown, RI - It’s time for big changes at Healey Farm. Lou Ann Healey-Rippin inherited her parents’ farm, 2006 being her first season at the tractor, and she is striking out to find the right balance between doing her own thing, and following in her father’s footsteps. Her task is made easier by the fact that her father was an experimental guy, unafraid to launch into a new undertaking and do what it took to make it happen. He bought the farm in 1950, 42 ½ acres of hilly trees and brush with a real fixer-upper of a farmhouse. He cleared the land, and built cow- and hay-barns, and launched into dairy production. When the price of milk bottomed out and the price of grain soared in the 1960s, he went into septic tank work, but kept up beef production on the land, then changed over to ponies (for reasons Lou Ann still cannot fathom), and ultimately into vegetables. This is all the more remarkable because their property was very hilly, so he had to re-sculpt the land to be flat enough for tractor cultivation! Lou Ann’s mother took it all in stride and humor while working at the local school for many years alongside her farm and household work.
Lou Ann didn’t really expect to end up here, herself, but life has a way of putting you in places you don’t foresee. While spending a tough patch of her life at her parents’ farm, one day, while planting alongside her father, Lou Ann says, she came to the realization that this was what she wanted to do; she couldn’t think of anything better. She had a severely handicapped child who found real pleasure in the stimulation of farm life, and the mutual support, companionship, and shared work makes farm life a good place for families, she thinks. So she stayed on, met her husband, and now her daughter lives next door. Two days a week her pre-school granddaughter spends the day with her, going through the business of farm life – picking horn worms off the tomatoes, feeding the animals, and generally being helpful as only 3-year olds can be. Now that the farm is down to Lou Ann and her husband (who has an outside job), every little bit of help is more than welcome, and finding people willing to do farm work isn’t easy. “People try, but they quit pretty soon,” she shrugs. “They say ‘it’s too hard,’ or ‘it’s too hot’ and they leave.” Even then, even if the help is only for a few days, she’s grateful for it.
And no wonder. With four farmers’ markets and a stand to supply, she is up most mornings at 5 am to pick the corn – she’s insistant it be picked the same day it’s to be sold. Summer squashes are fine picked the night before, but all the fragile crops she saves for the last minute. Not only does this make all the difference for things like corn which change so fast, but even heartier vegetables last so much better for their buyers. Lou Ann had a regular farmers’ market customer tell her that his family had just eaten the swiss chard they’d gotten the week before, and even after a week it was still beautiful and looked better than half the stuff on the shelf at the grocery store. Her quality-first policy is clear not only in her work ethic of minimal chemicals and going the extra mile, but in making other less common choices. Take her decision to stick with her father’s favorite variety of sweet corn – Lancelot (a “butter-and-sugar” varietal). He loved it so much he named his horse after it, and she echoes his appreciation for its unsurpassed flavor as an eating corn, off the cob. But most people don’t grow it, because its stalks are rather weak, and a badly-timed strong wind can wipe out the crop, as happened to Lou Ann’s first crop this year. But if having good corn is the goal, you take your chances with the weather.
Making the transition to her own farm business is a risky undertaking, and she’s set a goal for herself (and promised to her husband) that it will be viable and profitable in 5 years for it to continue. The cornerstone of her plan is to shift sales from markets to the farm stand. To this end, she had a new, spacious and airy stand built at the end of the winding driveway that passes through her fields. In its first year, Lou Ann has been careful to not grow faster than her sales, so produce is set up on only two counters, with plenty of room to grow. The former stand used to be honor system until fairly recently, but one year they had chronic problems with theft – of the vegetables, not the money. Lou Ann remembers with a laugh that it wasn’t even the loss of the produce that bothered her father, but the loss of his baskets they were displayed in! Now they hire someone to watch the stand while they do the labor and markets. Beside the stand is a spic-and-span little barn that houses her new petting zoo, “Gramma Jean’s Barnyard Friends.” The menagerie was her mother’s planned project for retirement, but her early passing didn’t allow for it until now. The adorable cluster of animals – pot-bellied pigs; fainting, Nigerian, and Nubian goats; baby-doll and Shetland sheep; a quarterhorse, a pony, and a llama – mingle and play together for the enjoyment of farm visitors.
Although farmers’ markets are exhausting, if her plans come to fruition Lou Ann will miss them a little, too. It’s nice to see the people, and she has been able to use that exposure to a variety of customers to adapt her crops to suit their demands. She grows heirloom tomatoes now because people asked for them, likewise for hot peppers, parsley and basil, beets, liliputian Fairy-tale eggplants, okra, and kohlrabi, the surprise success this year. Likewise her cut-flower beds, which face the stand and zoo, are filled with classics like strawflowers and sunflowers as well as by exotics like eucalyptus. As the stand grows, she hopes to suppliment her own crops with other RI-grown produce, especially peaches and other fruits, so she can be one-stop seasonal produce shopping for her customers.
Oh, and back to the five-year plan, there is one other thing – deer fencing, so her squash and pumpkins stand a chance to ripen for customers, not wildlife!